By Nelson L.

What are Auroras?

Auroras are light shows that happen on the Northern and Southern polar regions. They look like ribbons of colors. Most auroras have brushstrokes of green, yellow, pink, and red and any other color that can be created when these colors are blended (ie. blue and orange). The colors depend on the altitude of atoms and molecules. Nitrogen at 60 miles up gives off a purple-ish/pink glow on the edges of auroras. The color green is given off by oxygen at 200 miles up. The color red is given off by oxygen that is higher than 200 miles but is not visible to the naked eye. This is because there are limitations to the human eye that causes them to cancel out certain light frequencies that are mixed together like red-green and blue-yellow. Though human eyes cannot see the color red in auroras, cameras are able to pick them up because they are more sensitive in detecting light at the red end of the visible light spectrum. Auroras can appear as two to six structures. They begin as one or two and as they move they become more spread out creating more structures. As it spreads out more, the aurora becomes darker and darker, leaving the brightest section at the bottom, where the aurora originated.

Aurora Borealis

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How Auroras Form

Auroras form when the Earth's air molecules get excited. This happens when a huge flare erupting from the sun, comes directly to Earth. Flares are the result of intertwining magnetic fields on the solar surface, being tossed into space as a cloud of solar plasma. Solar plasma's are made of electrically charged atomic particles. As the particle cloud reach Earth, it becomes trapped by Earth's magnetic field and gets funneled to the polar regions because magnetism is strongest there. As they are funneled to the polar regions, interactions with Earth's air molecules create the infamous Auroras. The fast-moving atomic particles collides with the atoms and molecules of nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere. The nitrogen and oxygen becomes "charged" and excited as it absorbs the electrons. It is then released as photons-small bursts of energy in light form when it is calmed down or back to normal state. As you can see from the previous photos, auroras can form in different shapes. The shape of auroras depend on where in the magnetosphere the electrons come from and also what caused them to precipitate into Earth's atmosphere. In rare cases, there are auroras that are just red. This happens when there is an intense magnetic storm. When this happens, the sky turns red. This is caused by oxygen atoms being bombarded with massive amounts of energy. It can be seen in a large magnitude and is visible at lower altitudes than normal. In extreme cases, they can even be seen near the equator.

Wavelengths of Aurora Colors

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Diagram of how Aurora's form

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Picture of Aurora from the ISS

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Blood-red Aurora

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Eight interesting facts about Auroras

Types of Auroras

Since there are two different polar regions and the magnetosphere goes to both regions, there are two different types of auroras. The Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis. The Aurora Borealis is also known as the Northern Lights and can be seen from the North Pole. The best place to see the Northern Lights is in Alaska, Northern Canada, and sometimes even Scandinavia if weather conditions are right. The Aurora Australis is also known as the Southern Lights and can be seen from the south pole. You can see the Southern Lights best in southern Antarctica.
What Causes Auroras?
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Learn more about Auroras

Aurora From Orbit Sept. 17, 2011


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*Some pictures were taken from within a PDF and therefore could not be sited as it has no individual link. PDF is sited above.